April 19, 2010
Fascinating look at a tragic 1876 train crash
This book is a fascinating, if sad, look at the Ashtabula Disaster, then the worst American rail disaster to that time.
This book pulls together newspaper accounts, eyewitness reports, survivor accounts as well as official testimony about the incident. It was written within a year of the incident itself, so you can be sure it is a good representation of the times in which this tragedy happened.
There is a somewhat Christian-worldview flavor to the writing: the author celebrates the religious virtues of those who were injured and lost--including famous hymn writer Philip P. Bliss and his wife. Summaries of the funeral services and sermons of some victims are recorded, including that of Charles Collins who committed suicide while under scrutiny for his part in the building of the bridge.
It also condemns the sloth & reputed drunkenness of the fire captain in Ashtabula, as well the wickedness of those who took advantage of the situation by looting the wreck that first night or robbing the wounded as they were carried to help or as they lay insensible and recovering. That fact sort of shocked me! I find this tone appropriate to the times & style, just mentioning it for those who would be interested in that.
There is some discussion of the causes of the bridge failure as well. No other bridge of its type was ever built.
There are just a few typos in the text (OCR errors?), but none that left me wondering too long what the word really was.
Another caution: the description of the wreck and its immediate aftermath I found a bit gory. Probably not too bad by 21st century standards but I was a little surprised by it (discussions of dismembered bodies in the gorge of the creek, brains spilling out, severed limbs, burning of the wounded as they lay shrieking for help...). While I would allow my teens to read this, I'd probably not hand it to my sensitive 12yo to read.